Body dysmorphic disorder, also called body dysmorphia or BDD, is difficult for people who struggle with it. It can also be challenging for the loved ones of someone with body dysmorphia. If you have a friend or loved one with body dysmorphia, you may wonder how you can help them.
You may wonder how to help someone with body dysmorphia, especially when you feel like you have no control of the situation. It’s important to realize body dysmorphia is a diagnosable mental disorder.
Treatment can be effective for body dysmorphia, but you can’t force someone to get help if they aren’t ready. While you can be a support system, you can’t “cure” your loved one of the disorder.
So, what can you do? How can you be a support system and how can you help someone with body dysmorphia?
Understanding Body Dysmorphia
You may have misconceptions about what body dysmorphia is and what it isn’t. Learning more and working on understanding body dysmorphic disorder can be one of the best ways you help your loved one.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disorder where the affected person is preoccupied with perceived physical flaws. Thoughts of these flaws can be overwhelming and all-encompassing. Someone with body dysmorphia may find it difficult to think about anything else, however, to others the flaw is either very minor or may not be noticeable at all.
In some cases, a person with body dysmorphia may seek procedures or cosmetic surgeries to fix the perceived flaws. However, even following cosmetic procedures, the person will often go back to obsessing about the flaw once again.
Anywhere from 1.7 to 2.4 percent of the population is affected by body dysmorphic disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Recognizing the Signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
When someone has body dysmorphia, they may obsess over their appearance for hours or even entire days. This obsession is out of their control, and it’s difficult to focus on anything other than what they see as their physical imperfections.
Body dysmorphia can lead to avoidance of social situations and can create problems at school or work. Relationships may also be challenging.
Signs of body dysmorphia include:
- Attempting to hide the “flaws” through certain clothing, makeup, etc.
- Comparing oneself to others
- Seeking cosmetic procedures and surgeries
- Repetitively looking in the mirror or avoiding mirrors
- Excessive time spent on grooming
- An overwhelming feeling the flaw perceived makes them ugly or deformed
- Believing that the perceived flaw will lead to negative judgment or mocking from others
Other body dysmorphia signs are:
- Seeking reassurance from others
- Social isolation
- Skin picking or other compulsive behaviors
Features people with body dysmorphia most often become preoccupied with include:
- Facial features such as the nose, wrinkles or blemishes
- Hair (in particular baldness or hair thinning)
- Muscle size
- Breast size
- Skin appearance
6 Ways to Help Someone with Body Dysmorphia
When someone has body dysmorphia, they may realize the beliefs they have about their appearance or flaws aren’t true, or they may believe they are true. It varies from person-to-person.
Tips on helping someone with body dysmorphia include:
- Work on steering conversations away from their appearance or what they see as flaws.
- Avoid trying to make someone feel better by talking about your own insecurities or flaws. This can just spiral into a more negative conversation.
- Provide them with space to talk freely and openly with you about their feelings.
- Even if you can’t understand your friend’s feelings, work on understanding that their feelings are real to them. Don’t mock or minimize their feelings.
- If your friend or loved one can take small steps, celebrate those.
- Encourage your loved one to get help for body dysmorphia.
Where to Get Help for Body Dysmorphia
If your friend is wondering how to get help with body dysmorphic disorder, or where to get help, resources are available.
As a friend or loved one of someone with body dysmorphia, you can be helpful by exploring treatment resources or options and letting that person know what you find if they’re ready.
Psychotherapy is one of the main treatments for body dysmorphia. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the type of therapy most often used. When someone receives cognitive behavioral therapy for body dysmorphia, the focus is on helping them recognize and change their negative thoughts.
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t specifically approve any medications currently for the treatment of body dysmorphia. Off-label some medications can help with symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed, for example.
To learn more about treatment for body dysmorphia that co-occurs with substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village. Programs for substance abuse also include treatment for co-occurring disorders like body dysmorphia.
Body Dysmorphic Foundation. “Family and Friends.” (n.d.) Accessed January 16, 2019. Hagen, Annabella, LCSW, RPT-S. “When Your Loved One Has Body Dysmorphic Disorder.” PsychCentral. October 8, 2018. Accessed January 16, 2019. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).” (n.d.) Accessed January 16, 2019. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder.” Mayo Clinic. April 28, 2016. Accessed January 16, 2019.
Body Dysmorphic Foundation. “Family and Friends.” (n.d.) Accessed January 16, 2019.
Hagen, Annabella, LCSW, RPT-S. “When Your Loved One Has Body Dysmorphic Disorder.” PsychCentral. October 8, 2018. Accessed January 16, 2019.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).” (n.d.) Accessed January 16, 2019.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder.” Mayo Clinic. April 28, 2016. Accessed January 16, 2019.